This past year at Eastern Michigan University, I had the chance to take a course that specializes in Native American literature (LITR 361- Studies in Native American Literature). I'm not sure what I was expecting when I went into the course, but whatever it was, I ended up getting so much more.
Throughout the course, we read three novels: James Welch's Fools Crow, Linda Hogan's Mean Spirit, and Louise Erdrich's The Round House. All three were spectacular in their own way, providing a memorable glimpse into Native American culture while simultaneously raising awareness of the various challenges that Native Americans have faced and continue to face today.
1. Fools Crow
The first on our course list was Fools Crow, which was my favorite of the batch. If you're interested in learning about more traditional Native American practices and ways of life (as well as the unforgiving history which has led to current situations) then this novel is the perfect choice!
A tale of happiness and sadness, strength and weakness, and the undying spirit of Native American culture, Fools Crow takes its readers on a journey to the past- and in some respects, the present and future. One of just a handful of novels that depict traditional Blackfeet ways of life, this novel has played an important role in keeping those traditions alive in our practices and memory.
It taught me the value of tradition as well as gave me insight on some of Blackfeet beliefs and customs- all of which make Fools Crow an essential read!
2. Mean Spirit
The next novel in our course list was Mean Spirit, which skips forward in history to the 1920s. Set in a time when the pursuit of oil threatened Native American culture and lives, this novel tells the story of how Native Americans of the Osage tribe were affected by forced assimilation and cultural clashes between the Osage and white citizens.
Mean Spirit is truly a story of change, though there's an underlying theme of preservation that makes it a long-lasting and important read. Though Mean Spirit is unforgiving in its tale of challenges and death, it also provides a gleam of hope. If you're looking for a bittersweet novel to learn about Osage history in the 20th century, then this is the right choice!
Reading this novel helped me to understand the struggle that exists with many Native Americans in terms of trying to keep traditions alive while also learning to survive in a mostly-white society. The lesson of sacrifice, survival, and hope is one that will stay with me forever, and has earned Mean Spirit a place on this list!
3. The Round House
Last on the course list was The Round House, which is set later in the 20th century. This novel pushes to raise awareness on a truly heartbreaking issue in many Native American communities, which is the instances of rape on reservations that often go without justice. In a continued story of cultural clashes between Native American and white citizens, The Round House focuses on a young boy as he deals with the long-lasting effects of his mother's attack.
This novel contains defeat but also triumph, humor but also pain, as well as attacks and revenge, and how both can affect a community. The Round House is the perfect read for a reader who is interested in some of the more modern challenges that Native Americans face as well as a glimpse into life on a reservation.
From family bonds and struggles to the importance of friends and community, The Round House allowed me to step into life on a reservation and see a little bit of the struggles that many Native Americans face (as well as some of the highlights of their culture!) It taught me some of life's important lessons, such as caution when it comes to revenge and patience when it comes to injured family members.
As somebody who has always wanted to learn more about Native American history, traditions, and challenges, these three novels offered a fresh and complex perspective on Native American culture. They have helped educate me on historical and modern ways of life for many Native Americans.
This is very important to me, as many of the obstacles faced by Native Americans in these three novels continue to threaten Native American society today. Though there are too many factors to be covered in just three novels, Fools Crow, Mean Spirit, and The Round House are an excellent place to start, and can offer lessons and memories that will hopefully stay with you forever!